2020 Annual Conference Takes Courageous Steps (10/6/20)

Posted by on Oct 25, 2020 in Church Operations, EventReport, FEATURED, UMC Shared Ministries | 0 comments

The annual conference is when leaders from the churches of Greater NJ get together to celebrate our ministry and to plan the church business for the coming year. We approve resolutions and commit towards working for social justice. This year, the Covid virus prevented us from meeting together in person. Instead of gathering in the Wildwood convention center, we used Zoom and YouTube to meet “virtually.” The celebration and business of our Greater NJ Annual Conference was still conducted.

Consistent with these unsettling times, the theme of this year’s conference was “Courage.” Bishop Schol’s Episcopal Address and Ordination sermon called us to embrace challenges and fears, and then to take the courage that God provides. God’s courage empowers us not only to continue, but to forge ahead in new ways.

 

“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20)

 

 

Pitman UMC Journal

The details from the conference are presented on the Greater NJ Conference’s website, but we’ll start out by sharing some observations from those who represented our church at the conference (Lay Member Larry Bakely and Sr. Pastor Jim Bolton). All of the pictures are screen captures taken while the conference was in process…

The following depiction does not attempt to convey the details of the resolutions; only the observations of one who was “present.” For details, visit the Conference website summary by clicking the following button (text of the summary is also pasted below this section).

Greater NJ Annual Conference

 

Virtual Format

This year’s conference was held at the Conference’s Missions and Resource Center (in Neptune NJ), and the music and other portions were “fed in” from other locations. Usually, voting members are seated “within the bar” in the convention center, and anyone else can sit in the visitor’s sections. Additionally, the conference is live streamed on the Conference website.

In this year’s “virtual” conference, two platforms were used. All of the voting members were given Zoom invitations. Unlike the usual Zoom meetings where you can see every attendee (via the “Brady Bunch” gallery), a “one way” format of Zoom was used in which users could view a broadcast and vote (when necessary) using Zoom’s “Raise Hand” button. When it was time to discuss a piece of legislation, members used the Chat tool to request to make a speech. The video and audio from the Zoom users was controlled by the conference technical team. It was all “virtual”, but Robert’s Rules of Order were still there!

In addition to Zoom, YouTube broadcast the entire conference. Voting members used Zoom, non-voting “visitors” watched on YouTube.

 

Music and Worship

In the “normal” conference, every session opens with a time of worship lead by the conference band. This year was no different. We didn’t have the usual worship and teaching sessions, but every Zoom session began with songs of worship. The music was performed “off site” and added into the Zoom video/audio mix. This year’s band (as in recent years) was lead by Conference worship leader, Lan Wilson.

 

Episcopal Address

As usual, the conference opened with the Episcopal Address by our bishop, John Schol. The theme for this year’s conference was “Courage,” and Bishop Schol set the tone with his address. He showed us that we need courage to face three challenges:

1- Grief-
The pandemic has brought about some painful losses. People have died. Ministries have ended. Churches have closed.

2- Ministry in a Strange Land-
The pandemic is forcing us to do things in a new way. Worshiping online, or gathering with “social distancing.”

4- Racism-
We must finally meet the challenge to end the sin of racism.

The bishop’s message resonated with the challenges of our current times. Fear and unsettling changes imposed on us by the pandemic. Jobs lost, churches closed. Feelings of isolation caused by not being able to visit with loved ones or to worship in person with our church family. Violence and senseless killings seemingly stemming out of racism and frequently directed at people of color. The difficult times call us to take courage and to make a difference in the world.

 

Church Closures

Every year, we vote to approve the closure of several churches. The church, represented by their District Superintendent, requests approval of their closure and disposition of assets, and we sadly and reluctantly agree. Old ministries must make way for new ones. Usually there are 3-5 churches on the list, but this year the list of 17 symbolized the weight of the challenging times brought about by the pandemic.

 

Budget

Bob Dietz, chair of Council on Finance and Administration

Everyone, including the Conference is under financial stresses caused by the pandemic. The Conference therefore decided to hold the apportionment rate at the same levels as last year. They felt comfortable in doing this because spending has decreased and they expect that the giving rates will improve.

One item that resulted in some discussion was a line item to increase funding to Drew University. Our Conference is the main recipient of graduates from Drew Theological Seminary, and we felt we needed to fill the void when the General Church decreased their financial support for Drew. In the end, the 2020 Shared Ministry Plan (“budget”) passed by a margin of 472 to 41.

 

Aldersgate Camp

Many of us have memories of Aldersgate Camp; the site for many retreats over the years. The property as fallen into disrepair and currently requires at least $4 million in deferred maintenance. Since the new Next Gen ministries has successfully been using other resources to develop fruitful youth and young adult ministries, it was decided that we should move on from the Aldersgate Camp. The camp will be sold and the proceeds will be used to fund the newer camping and retreat ministries which are currently blessing youth and young adults.

 

Ending Racism

The conference approved a campaign and a resolution to address racism and to set goals on how United Methodists in NJ can work to end racism. The bishop reminded us that we need to end the “Sin of racism.”

One of the major initiatives coming out of this conference was the creation of a campaign called “A Journey of Hope.” The campaign resolved to “courageously support and commit to boldly work together to end the sin or racism in our Conference and to create a more racially just, inclusive and equitable church…” It set a series of goals and metrics that we will strive to meet. There was some debate on whether there might be some unintended consequences, and also on whether it didn’t go far enough. Others noted that it didn’t cover racism against other minorities. In the end, “A Journey of Hope” was approved overwhelmingly (408 to 88).

We also approved a resolution in support of Black Lives Matter. There was some debate on whether we should try to somehow try to add a word such as “movement” to disassociate it from any political organization. But it was decided that these three words should stand on their own: Black Lives Matter. The resolution passed by a resounding tally of 372 for to 34 against.

 

Retirements / Passing of the Mantle

Rev. Peter Jamieson

Every year, pastors retire and they are replaced by new ordinands and local pastors. During the conference, we hold a moving ceremony that honors each retiree.

The retired clergy then pass the “mantle” to the new ordinands, who then pass it to local pastors and finally to the laity (represented by Conference Lay Leader, Rosa Williams).

Of interest to PUMC, one of the retirees was Rev. Peter Jamieson. Pastor Peter was our associate pastor some years ago.

 

 

Ordination Address

Bishop John Schol

On Tuesday, after all (or most) of the “business” had been conducted, we celebrated the ordination of new provisional Elders, Full Elders, and Deacons.

In his message, Bishop Schol related how David “passed the torch” to his son Solomon, and how that torch was forged by David’s experiences (such as the one he had as a boy with Goliath).

Courage starts with Fear. You wouldn’t normally think that, but Fear is necessary. Without embracing our fears we can’t embrace God. Without fear, we trust only in ourselves and we think we can make it happen on our own.

“Crisis gives commitment, commitment gives resurrection.”

Courage also needs Resiliency. Like a sponge rubber ball, when we’re squeezed and flattened, we can’t remain flattened. We can’t give up. That means that during this pandemic we need to find new ways of doing worship and ministries. We need to be creative. But, to be courageous, we must be resilient. We must not give up.

“Courage: Center Me and Humble Me so that God might use me to bless others.”

 

Ordination Ceremony

Ordination is a special service which usually happens on the first night of the conference. This year, it was held at the very end of the conference. The service opens with a procession of clergy. Normally this involves all of the Conference’s clergy (active and retired), but this year the procession was limited to ordinances and the Cabinet.

After his address to the ordinands, the bishop ordained (or “commissioned”) three offices of clergy: Provisional Elders, Deacons, and Full Elders. For each, the candidates knell at an altar and the bishop prays and lays hands as he recites the ordination ritual. Elders are presented with stoles.

After the service, the procession led outside of the Conference Center, and everyone posed for a big group picture.

 


 

Conference Wrap Up

The following is the text of the summary which is currently posted on the Conference website.  In addition to this wrap-up, the Conference website also contains videos, and other details about the conference.  Click the following button to access the reports posted by the Conference:

Click this Button: Greater NJ Annual Conference

Episcopal Address

In his opening address, Bishop John Schol said the COVID-19 crisis moved the people of GNJ to deeper conviction, which is leading to resurrection. Evidence of the risen Christ was celebrated in the ministries of congregations in Greater New Jersey as the Bishop shared ways that clergy and congregational leaders have created innovative and profound ways to help others and continue their missions. Proclaiming how churches in GNJ are distributing 20,000 meals each month, the Bishop commended churches for their courage and faith in God to guide them. “Crisis deepened conviction, and conviction gave rise to courage. You sacrificed, and God is resurrecting.” he said.

Bishop Schol called on everyone to embrace the GNJ initiative to end the sin of racism. “We have come this far by faith and we are not turning back.” He applauded those who have already started moving forward to ending racism and challenged others to be proactive in doing the same. The Bishop said, “This is hard work, but I have never seen the people of GNJ shy away from hard work. You have been strong in the face of the winds of Superstorm Sandy, you have faced down a pandemic and are leading forward, you are choosing to be an equitable, inclusive and just church – you are difference makers.”

To read the entire address, visit here.

 

A Journey of Hope

A Journey of Hope was passed by a resounding vote of 303 to 68. GNJ is leading our congregations on an important journey to end the sin of racism. With A Journey of Hope, GNJ will Invest $5 million for a more racially just, equitable and inclusive GNJ as GNJ continues to honor the humanity, racial identity, uniqueness and sacred worth of everyone as we live out our baptismal vow.

Read A Journey of Hope and legislation here.

“The time is now, and we must all do this together,” said Rev. Kay Dubuisson, chair of the Connectional Table and pastor at the Spring Valley UMC.

 

Worship

We had powerful worship experiences with a profound and heartfelt sermon from Skylands District Superintendent Rev. Dr. Eunice Vega-Perez on Monday for the Service of Remembrance where we honored 50 clergy and lay members who passed in the last year and a half. She said, “Today we celebrate the cloud of witnesses. We remember them. They are with us in spirit.” Interspersed was beautiful music led by Director of Worship Lan Wilson and several choirs and musicians throughout GNJ.

At the Service of Passage we celebrated the ministries of 22 clergy who retired representing 527 years in ministry with the people of Greater New Jersey.

 

Celebration: Miracles Everywhere

The people of GNJ celebrated the Miracles Everywhere Campaign, which was launched three years ago to raise money for bringing young disciples to Christ (Next Generation Ministries), bringing hope to your communities (Hope Centers), partnering with Tanzania (GNJ Pastor School) and hurricane relief and recovery (UMCOR). In 2020 we increased the goal to include $1,000,000 for the COVID-19 Relief Fund to fund new ministries that are emerging from the pandemic and to bring relief to churches with paying bills and salaries. We have already funded more than $800,000 grants from the COVID-19 Relief Fund. Praise God!

 

Other Legislation

We passed legislation to sell Aldersgate Camp in order to infuse camping and retreat ministries, fostering more growth among our youth. We committed to honoring the mission and legacy of Henry Appenzeller and Dale Forsman as Next Generation Ministries moves forward.

The passage of the Black Lives Matter resolution allows the Conference to “remember, acknowledge, commit and move forward to a journey of hope” for all People of Color, as stated by Rev. Vanessa Wilson, who chairs the Commission of Religion and Race. We can become a church where anti-racist behavior work is absolutely necessary to the spiritual and Christian disciplines developed in a Christian disciple, and where everyone can have a voice, a life and have it more abundantly.

We approved the $66.4 million budget that continues and expands the mission and ministry of GNJ while keeping the percentage that churches contribute flat. For six years the amount congregations are apportioned has been reduced. The apportionment percentage continued at 15.2%, which Is lower than the 15.6% goal set four years ago.

 

Ordination and Commissioning

On Tuesday, GNJ commissioned and ordained 21 clergy, which consisted of Kimberly Burse as deaconess, Sung Il Lee who will serve as a missionary in Fiji and one commissioned deacon, 11 commissioned elders and eight ordained.

After urging people to be mindful that this is a time for grace, to help others and to break down division and build unity, Bishop Schol said in his sermon Tuesday, “There can be no courage without fear” as he embraced resiliency and the powers of God within us. “Embrace your fears,” he said.

= = =

Like the words of David in 1 Chronicles 28, the members of GNJ were “strong and courageous” and did “the work” with dedication and faith in God to guide us on our journey these past two days at the 2020 Annual Conference. It was virtual but still just as powerful and meaningful.

 


 

Digging Deeper

Videos of the entire conference are currently available on the Conference’s YouTube channel. Additionally, our website post which announced the conference contains other details.  Use the below drop down boxes to learn more about the conference…

Live Stream Recording- Monday 10/5

Live Stream Recording- Tuesday 10/6

 

Announcement Post

Ahhh… the sounds of early summer.  Wildwood.  The beach.  The sand. Mack’s pizza.  And the sounds of “Watch the Tram Car Please!”

The yearly conference of the Greater NJ Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church usually meets in Wildwood NJ in May.  But, “usually” doesn’t apply very often in this “Covid” year of 2020.  May’s live meeting (along with the Mack’s pizza) were postponed.  Instead, we’re going to meet via Zoom in October.

 

Annual Conference- 2020 Style…

This year’s conference will be held via Zoom on two mornings:  Monday October 5 and Tuesday October 6.  Monday’s session will start at 8:30 AM while Tuesday’s will start at 8:00 AM.  Both are scheduled to end at 12:30.

All clergy are members of the Annual Conference (they’re actually not members of the church they pastor).  Additionally, each local church elects Lay Members to represent the church at the conference.  Generally, the number of Lay Members from each church equals the number of clergy from the church.  Anyone may view the conference, but only “members” may vote.  Voting members have already been sent Zoom invitations.

The general public may still participate by viewing the conference on a You Tube stream. These videos are available below.  Open the drop down boxes below to view the conference when it goes live. 

2020 Annual Conference

  • Monday 10/5:   8:30AM – 12:30 PM
  • Tuesday 10/6:   8:00 AM – 12:30 PM

For more info click this button: Conference    

 

Courage

The theme of this year’s conference is “Courage.”  It’s based on 1 Chronicles 28:20. In this passage, David was handing over the throne to his son Solomon.  He ended his remarks to his son with this command: 

“David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished. “

We’ve gone through some rough times this year.  The year 2020 has threatened us with a pandemic, rattled norms, and called for faith and courage.  So, this year’s theme is appropriate to our current times. 

God is faithful.  In the opening letter of the conference workbook, Bishop John Schol listed some of the “acts of courage” that God has accomplished through our faith in the past decade:

  1. Have adapted our ministry and mission to meet the needs of our congregations and communities in the time of COVID-19 through online worship, expanded food ministries and a four-month shared ministry holiday.

  2. Launched the COVID-19 Relief Fund as a part of Miracles Everywhere to address emerging needs in our congregations and communities.
  3. Joined a historic lawsuit to desegregate New Jersey public schools.
  4. Organized a historic relief and recovery effort after Superstorm Sandy.
  5. Launched IGNITE, a dynamic youth event serving 1500 students.
  6. Developed mission partnerships with Puerto Rico and Tanzania.
  7. Proclaimed in a time of challenge that we would help every congregation to thrive in their context recognizing different convictions and encourage congregations to develop covenants as part of our way forward.
  8. Built the Mission and Resource Center.

And yet, our mission as the people of God continues.  The pandemic continues, injustices continue, poverty continues.  Christ’s Church must also continue to take courage and be His hands and feet in the world.

 

So What’s Gonna Happen?

The conference consists of a docket of Legislation, Reports, and Resolutions.   But in between the “business” items, the conference also includes special times of prayer, celebration, and worship.  

Here are some of the worship highlights: 

  • Bishop Schol’s Episcopal Address (Monday, 9:00 AM)
  • Service of Remembrance (Monday, 10:30 AM). 
  • Service of Passage- the “mantel” is passed from retiring clergy (Tuesday, 8:30 AM)
  • Service of Ordination (Tuesday, 10:30 AM)

And, there will be some Legislation.  Of particular interest will be consideration of a proposal to create an initiative called “A Journey of Hope.”  This “urgent calling” will seek to “end the sin of racism in the Greater NJ Annual Conference by dismantling systems and structures within the church that perpetuate racism.”   It lists a series of key goals in the areas of:

  • A– Aspire to a vision of what an inclusive Church looks like
  • C– Comprehend.  Listen and understand.  Learn and understand how racism infects our own communities
  • T– Transform.  Work together to make the changes God is expecting of us.

We will also consider a resolution which calls us to support Black Lives Matter.  This calls us to understand the racism within our country, church, and within each of us.  This goes beyond politics.  It challenges us to engage in acts of mercy to repair the breach in Black and Brown neighborhoods.  In courage, we must answer the call of Christ to work for a world where the spiritual, social, and physical dimensions of all people can thrive.

Beyond those loftier topics, we will consider the usual items such as budgets, clergy compensation, and disposition of assets from church closures.

But in this year of 2020, there won’t be any Mack’s pizza…

 

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For other posts about the Conference and the activity of the United Methodist Church, click this button:    GNJ Conference  

 

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